NASA's FY2025 budget request means tough times ahead for Chandra and Hubble

But Artemis is still OK, so that's alright then

NASA has published its budget request for the fiscal year 2025, and it is not good news for the Hubble Space Telescope or the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

The total budget request is unchanged from FY2023's Operating Plan, meaning that it had to make some tough decisions to accommodate increases elsewhere in the agency's remit. This means that should things go through as planned, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is in line for some cuts while Chandra's funding is set to dwindle to what NASA described as "minimal operations."

To put this in context, Chandra has enjoyed a prodigiously long mission, having managed more than 24 years of a planned five-year mission in orbit. It was deployed from Space Shuttle Columbia in 1999 and has been a boon to X-ray astronomers ever since.

Those days, however, seem to be coming to an end. Although the spacecraft continues to return useful science, ever-tightening purse strings dictate that NASA managers need to balance the cost of keeping Chandra running against future missions and other operational needs.

The agency said in its justification for the budget request: "The Chandra spacecraft has been degrading over its mission lifetime to the extent that several systems require active management to keep temperatures within acceptable ranges for spacecraft operations.

"This makes scheduling and the post processing of data more complex, increasing mission management costs beyond what NASA can currently afford."

Rather than increase funding to meet costs, NASA has decided on a cut from $68.3 million in FY2023 to $41.1 million in FY2025's request, declining to $26.6 million in subsequent years and then $5.2 million in FY2029. To put that in perspective, the budget request for the veteran Voyager spacecraft is set to increase from $6.5 million to $7 million for FY2025, increasing to $7.6 million in FY2029.

The HST's budget is also set to be cut as NASA seeks savings to fund other programs. The budget requested for FY2025 is $88.9 million, a five percent drop from the $93.3 million of FY2023, and NASA reckons that it can fold some of Hubble's operations into those of the James Webb Space Telescope. The Hubble's budget is set to drop further to $64.7 million in FY2029.

The Mars Sample Return mission does not yet have a figure assigned to it in the request and is listed as TBD until an assessment of mission architecture options is complete.

Unsurprisingly, NASA's Artemis program continues to rumble along in the budget request with little alteration. However, there was one notable change: Artemis V has slipped from 2029 to March 2030, more than a year after Artemis IV, currently set for September 2028. NASA expects subsequent missions to fly on an annual basis. ®

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